Teams often set lofty internal goals that ultimately come down to the performance of a handful of key individual players. But also sometimes your Patrick Mahomes and it doesn’t matter how transcendent you are because your team is Texas Tech.
So let’s take a look at a key player for each of the 10 teams in the Big 12 in the order in which the Pokes will see them along their 2019 path.
Caden Sterns DB - Texas
It would be easy to pick almost all quarterbacks in a conference so dominated by high-powered passing attacks, but that would be too easy. Also, Texas has routinely had one of the best defenses in the conference (along with almost certainly the most talented). Oklahoma State fans remember his older brother Jordan as a stalwart for many years at the back end of the Cowboys defense, and Caden’s success with the Longhorns make that missed connection sting even more.
Caden had 62 tackles to go along with 4 interceptions in his freshman season, and as one of the leading defensive returners for the ‘Horns he’ll look to dial up that production even more in his sophomore campaign.
Skylar Thompson QB - Kansas State
In an offseason filled with change starting at the very top with Wildcat legend Bill Synder giving way to FCS stud Chris Klieman, KSU will look to veteran quarterback Skylar Thompson to smooth the transition. From a Cowboy’s perspective, it’s really the 3rd string Z-receiver we need to worry about at this position, but Thompson will have to step up in a meaningful way for the Cats to not not assume their 9th place predicted finish.
Alan Bowman QB - Texas Tech
Yeah, yeah I know I said I was going to try to stay away from quarterbacks, and I know I already skipped a top-10 Heisman favorite in Sam Ehlinger, but this red-haired flamethrower from Lubbock absolutely torched the Pokes last year to stop the streak short of 10. I personally think Kliff Kingsbury would still be coaching in college instead of the lowly NFL if it weren’t for Bowman getting hurt a season ago.
Denzel Mims WR - Baylor
Another deviation from the obvious, I think the Bears talented receiver core is big reason for QB Charlie Brewer’s success. Mims was somewhat limited last year against the Pokes, but is looking to rediscover the trajectory he was on his sophomore year.
Greg Eisworth DB - Iowa State
Iowa State landed four (4!) players on the Big 12 preseason team with Eisworth being a first-team selection at the end of last season. As a sophomore he recorded 87 tackles to go along with 2 forced fumbles and a pick. Iowa State will depend on their defense to anchor a team led by sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy if they want to live up to their lofty third place preseason prediction.
Jalen Reagor WR - TCU
TCU is one of the few teams besides the Pokes in the conference that doesn’t have a surefire returning QB. Similar to the Pokes however, they have an elite weapon at wideout in junior Jalen Reagor. Reagor lit the Pokes and the conference up last year, and will do much of the same no matter who’s slinging it around for the Horned Frogs this year.
Perry Ellis Pooka Williams RB - Kansas
Sorry, couldn’t resist the basketball season joke. In all seriousness, if he can stay out of trouble, Pooka is the truth. Unfortunately, Les Miles will need to get Williams a lot of help in order to steer the Jayhawks away from another last place finish in the conference.
Kennedy McKoy RB - West Virginia
Another team in rebuilding mode and still undecided on a QB, West Virginia and new head coach Neal Brown will want to lean on the senior back and pre-season All Big-12 OL Colton McKivitz.
Jalen Hurts QB - Oklahoma
I wanted to go with Calcaterra or Lamb or Brooks, but I think a developed veteran Hurts is the piece the Sooners need to make it all click. One of, if not the highest profile transfer of the offseason, Jalen Hurts is looking to continue a trend of massively successful transfer QB’s at Oklahoma. I don’t think he’ll continue the Heisman streak, but I think he’s shown enough signs of improvement that he can do enough to lead a Sooners team that should have an improved defense.
Chuba Hubbard RB, Oklahoma State
We’re obviously most intimately familiar with our situation here in Stillwater, so this may be met with the most contention, but I really believe it. Teams are going to key in heavily on shutting down Tylan, so if whoever QB1 turns out to be has the capability of pushing the ball downfield, Chuba will have plenty of room to have a special season for the Pokes. He’s going to need help from some key defensive players like A.J. Green to make it more than just a stellar individual year, but I think he will have a big chance to show the world he’s more than just a Canadian speedster.